Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Pete's History

Born in the Bronx, New York City on October 28, 1940, and raised for the most part in Philadelphia, PA marks me as an east coast product. I was pretty much a city boy, although the part of Philly I grew up in was suburban in nature. The town of Roxborough was a blue collar community represented by about every ethnic group you could imagine. So, as a protestant, Italian, preacher's kid it was easy to blend into the mix. It was a great way and a great place to grow up. Being within walking distance or taking a bus to a host of venues and activities enabled us, my brother and two sisters included, to take full advantage of our surroundings. During the summers and available weekends of my teen years I worked at various jobs to support my social life and a 1949 Ford convertible. The jobs included caddying, sheet metal work, and apprenticing at a steel forging plant. I enjoyed the work, experience, and extra money, but more importantly it convinced me that I needed to pursue a different type of career.

High School and community athletics played a major role in my entering the U. S. Air Force Academy. It was not because of any particular star quality, but because of a competitive spirit necessary to survive in a tough neighborhood, that I caught the attention of a competing team's coach. He was coincidentally a Reserve Air Force Major and a USAFA Liaison Officer. In the fall of 1958 I entered the University of Pennsylvania. Although attending on a scholastic scholarship it was necessary to step away the following year and earn money to continue my education. The Liaison Officer, Major Bill Farrell, learned of my dilemma and suggested I apply to the Academy. Fate prevailed because I was the tenth and last alternate on Congressman Toll's list, and every other candidate ahead of me failed. And like 749 other young men, June 27, 1960 presented a totally new world. It turned out to be the second best thing in my life.

In retrospect USAFA exceeded my expectations. The education, experience, and friendships gained were remarkable. Clearly, the sum of events over those four years prepared the way for an exciting and rewarding life. It was during those four years that the best thing in my life came to pass. I met Cathy Boyer. On August 7, 1964 we were married at her home church in Pueblo, Colorado.

My first job after graduation began a transition I never anticipated. I worked for a month on Cathy's Dad's ranch in Westcliffe, Colorado prior to our wedding. The location enabled me to be nearer to Cathy so I could enjoy the prenuptials, especially the nifty parties Cathy's parents' friends showered upon us. It was a special and memorable time. The job entailed branding and castrating cattle, milking a cow, collecting chicken eggs; and yes, slopping three huge hogs. It was certainly not what I was ever trained to do, and little did I know I was being trained to become a “country boy” sometime down the road.

Shortly thereafter, we headed to Moody AFB, GA. The stay was only seven months. I fully expected to fly airplanes for a long time, but as much as I enjoyed flying jets it simply was not in my DNA. Undaunted, I moved into the civil engineering career field. Initially, I was unsure it was a good and wise choice. My first assignment was to Duluth, IAP in Air Defense Command. We arrived in the Middle of March 1965 and endured some “nifty” spring weather. I was sure I was being mistreated for my absent DNA flying gene. Snow removal operations and checking the flight line in the equivalent of 75 degrees below zero weather was a part of the scenario. It is one of those things one can say, “I am glad I did it,” but it is far better as a memory I choose to brag about.

Learning base support activities at a small base was ideal. I performed the programming, design, and inspecting of repair and construction projects, and briefed those projects near and dear to various commanders. The most beneficial part of the tour was interacting with civilian and military personnel. The learned lessons were invaluable tools I applied throughout my service and civilian careers. While there, Cathy finished her B.S. Degree in History and Political Science at Minnesota-Duluth University. We also enjoyed camping in the canoe boundary area of northern Minnesota. I was impressed that my bride could portage a canoe every bit as well as I could.

September of 1966 found me at Texas Technological University, Lubbock, Texas. Two significant events resulted. I received a Masters Degree in Industrial Engineering and our first son Taylor was born. Upon graduation Cathy and Taylor were moved to Pueblo, CO and I moved on to Vietnam.

July 1968 took me to Cam Rahn Bay Air Base, RVN where I was the Chief of Engineering and Construction. The volume and scope of construction was enormous: runways, taxiways, POL storage areas, hangars, shelters, revetments, roads, communication facilities, electrical and water source development and distribution systems, etc. The bulk of construction was performed by contractors under the guidance of the U.S. Navy and the 555th Red Horse Squadron. Coordinating, inspecting, overseeing, approving and accepting the construction made for long but fast moving days.

An anecdote worth repeating involves an unnamed '61 USAFA grad. Part of my responsibilities included attending periodic coordination meetings with the Navy in Saigon. I would go to the C-7A or C-130 flight line to hunt up a flight which was normally an easy task. On one occasion I could see only one flight listed on the board. I found the aircraft commander, this 61 Grad, and pleaded for a ride. He refused because he was making an ammo drop en route to Saigon. I pressed him yet he refused to take me as a passenger because it was against regulations. That flight never made it to its intermediate stop!

While I encountered some large construction projects later on, none came close to matching the level of effort at Cam Rahn Bay. On a commercial flight years later, I flew past the coast of Vietnam. It was unsettling at best as I saw the base then being occupied by the Soviet Union.

In July 1969 I was reassigned to the Air Force Civil Engineering Center located at Wright Patterson AFB, OH. The job seemed tame in comparison to my Vietnam experiences. I headed up a program for the development of automated design specifications for six months, and then moved into the contingency war planning arena for a couple of years. This effort required writing and coordinating plans through the Pentagon which I found exciting but often quite frustrating. The next job moved me to the Center's Field Technology and Training Division. The tasks here involved development, testing and evaluation of rapid runway repair, aircraft shelter design and construction techniques, and the rehabilitation of steel springs supporting structures in the Cheyenne Mountain facility. The training responsibilities involved the preparation of Red Horse Squadrons and Prime BEEF (emergency) response teams for deployment. Our son David was born at the Wright-Pat baby factory in 1970, and in 1972 our family moved with the Center to Tyndall AFB, FL. While there I was selected for promotion to Major and a special engineer exchange assignment.

In July 1973 I was assigned to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mediterranean District located at Camp Darby, Italy. The specific task was program management for the master planning, design, and construction of two navy bases at virgin sites and a headquarters complex for the Royal Saudi Navy. The U.S Navy sold twelve destroyer class size ships to the Saudis which required port and base support facilities. It was an enormous and exciting project. My arrival occurred at the latter part of the master planning stage and the simultaneous designing of the base and supporting facilities. The bases were located on each side of the Arabian peninsula and the headquarters was in Riyadh. The base on the Arabian Sea required breakwaters and the base on the Red Sea was fashioned from a huge dump. It was a fascinating program that included a synchronized dock that lifted a destroyer sized vessel so it could be moved on land and repaired under the cover of a huge metal roof. The joint ventures of U.S., Greek, and Dutch architect-engineer firms were located in Greece and Holland which made for interesting trips there as well as to Saudi Arabia.

Cathy, the boys, and I travelled through Europe as much as time and funds allowed. Significantly, my parents visited us and we accompanied them on a car trip around Italy. The trip included visiting my father's birthplace and his family in Corleone, Sicily. In more ways then one, it was quite a trip. That two year adventure was rewarding in so many ways. I attempted to extend the assignment to no avail.

The Armed Forces Staff College was our next stop. We arrived in August 1975 and departed in January 1976. The duration of the tour was short but thoroughly enjoyed. It was good to be on U.S. soil again and able to have more family time.

My follow on assignment was to the Air Force Regional Civil Engineer-Central Region in Dallas, Texas. As the Chief of Engineering with an all civilian staff of architects and engineers, my responsibility involved the execution of the military construction program on all bases in the central region of the United States. Managing a program with an all civilian staff was a different animal. Certain management and leadership skills gained earlier were put to the test. I was glad for my time in Duluth and Italy. Our family thrived during the five and a half years we spent living in Arlington, Texas. It was a wonderful assignment during which I was promoted to Lt Colonel.

My next and most challenging assignment began in May 1981. It was initiated by a call from the Air Force Civil Engineer at the Pentagon. It was one of those calls where you were “asked” if you wanted an assignment; but, if you did not take the assignment you could expect something worse. I was asked to travel up the road to Sheppard AFB, near Wichita Falls, Texas and be interviewed for the Base Civil Engineering Squadron Commander position. I cringed because twelve years earlier I attended a six weeks computer course at Sheppard. Cathy insisted on accompanying me while I attended the computer course even though accommodations in the area were not the best. As we left the area, Cathy announced that the best part of our stay was Wichita Falls in the rear view mirror. She further stated that if I was ever assigned there I would have to go without her.

The interviewer was a hard nosed two star general, and as you might guess I succeeded in getting the job. I am happy to report that Cathy relented and did accompany me. The squadron was on the general's list for non performance and a lack of discipline particularly on the part of young airmen. With NCO help and twenty hour days over a three month period the situation turned completely around. Later that year I was selected for Colonel and a Senior Officer School. The two plus years of experience served to be my most gratifying career job, and as it turned out Cathy and the boys consider it to be one of their favorite tours.

August of 1984 found us at the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, AL. The collegiate atmosphere and family friendly environment was a welcome opportunity to recharge batteries, socialize with fellow officers, and enjoy family recreation. My initial follow on assignment was to the Pentagon, but late breaking personnel moves changed that assignment. Instead, I moved Cathy and the boys to Colorado Springs to be closer to family, and in July 1984 I headed to Osan AB, ROK on a one year unaccompanied tour as the Civil Engineering Commander. The situation at Osan was as dysfunctional as it had been at Sheppard AFB. There were some hair raising experiences, but having been through such a similar situation it did not take long to move the squadron in a positive direction. The assignment was quite satisfying professionally, but missing family made the year pass rather slowly. The good news was that the follow on assignment was to Space Command Headquarters at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs.

From July 1985 until my Air Force retirement on 1 July 1987, I served as the Space Command Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Engineering and Services. The excitement of the then new Major Command, the engineering challenges it presented, and the ongoing fulfillment of 23 years of active duty were difficult to leave behind. Other factors like the return to Colorado, the family's need to stabilize during the important high school years, and an interesting business opportunity turned the tide.

Nine months prior to retiring, Cathy and I purchased Home Lighting Inc., a well respected company in Colorado Springs that sold lighting fixtures over the counter and wholesale to home builders. Not long after the purchase the economy and home building in Colorado took a dive. Revenues dropped by sixty five percent and the number of employees dropped from 31 to 13.

Fortunately, I was recruited by URS Consultants, Inc. to conduct construction surveillance for the Air Force SDI facility at Schriever, AFB outside of Colorado Springs. This began a decade of engineering consulting work in the construction and environmental engineering arena primarily with SAIC, Inc. In the mean time Cathy and I struggled to make the lighting business profitable. Happily we succeeded and ultimately sold the business in 2000.

With our sons now on their own we moved to a mountain home near Westcliffe, CO. Along the way we accumulated some nearby ranch land, and I became a gentleman rancher primarily partnering in a horse hay and cattle lease operation. Finally, a “country boy.”

One of the major benefits of living in Colorado is a reconnection with the Air Force Academy. Being the crossroads for its graduates it enhances the opportunity to renew classmate relationships. I was honored to be class president during our 1989 and 1994 class reunions and to later participate on the '64 Class Committee to present the Mall of Heroes to the Academy. I now serve as the class senator on the Association of Graduates Class Advisory Senate. I sincerely cherish such opportunities.

Cathy and I now split our time between Westcliffe and Phoenix, AZ so we can be closer to our children and grandchildren.

Pete LoPresti

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